Thursday, September 24, 2015

Martha Stewart's Appetizers: A Cookbook Review

Martha Stewart is a household name for her skills at entertaining, and when I saw her newest cookbook would focus on appetizers, I was expecting some very fancy fare that might be too complicated for me to make, but I was pleasantly surprised by the recipes in Martha Stewart's Appetizers.  There were some traditional favorites, modern takes on classic canapes, pass-around bites for parties and quite a few new and interesting flavors to keep your guests happy.

I had checked a copy of Martha's Hors d'Oeuvres out of the library several years ago when I was looking for something to serve at a party we were holding for the closing night of a theatre production.  I remember thinking the food was a little too sophisticated to try and serve to the company we were expecting which included many children, and I wound up going a different route and making an herbed cream cheese pinwheel and having a fruit and vegetable tray because I was intimidated by the amount of preparation and unfamiliar ingredients in the book.  This book is what I was looking for then, and I'm happy they have published it now.

 Appetizers has many recipes I would never expect to find in a Martha Stewart cookbook.  There are cheese balls, deviled eggs, popcorn, and fried macaroni and cheese bites just to name a few - definitely not the high brow fare I had expected but I was very pleasantly surprised.  The recipes for the most part seem like I would be able to accomplish them, make them ahead and there are only a few that use ingredients I would consider out of my price range for a get together.  There is even a Chex mix recipe!

Many of the recipes will be able to be adapted to fit the new diet that my husband and I have begun which is also a very happy discovery.  I can cut the salt and swap lower fat dairy products in for many of the recipes without sacrificing flavor since they have lots of seasoning and are made with fresh ingredients.  There are vegetable dips and a spring rolls recipe that I can't wait to try.

Martha Stewart has proven her food to be approachable, fun and delicious with this latest book.  I'd like to thank the kind folks at Blogging For Books for providing me with this copy for review - it is the beginning of something delicious!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Broad Fork Cookbook by Hugh Acheson

The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits by Hugh Acheson, Photographs by Rinne Allen

First, let me say that celebrity chef Hugh Acheson (cheftestant and judge of Bravo's Top Chef and Top Chef Masters) has created a quirky, fun and gorgeously photographed cookbook.  The Broad Fork approaches its fruit and vegetable subjects seasonally and offers interesting and refreshing takes on ingredients both traditional and unusual.

I have enjoyed watching this chef critique dishes for several years on Top Chef and I've always been interested in knowing more about his background and perspective.  Reading through the stories behind these recipes and how his neighbors and friends supply his pantry with the fruits of their farms and gardens was a such a unique and charming take on the traditional cookbook format, that I think any of the recipes I choose to make will be extra special.

This is the kind of book that teaches you about the ingredients while inspiring ideas of how to refine them and gift them to your family's dinner table throughout the year.  Each season highlights a variety of produce and offers exciting ways to prepare it.

Acheson says early in the book that a neighbor's question "what the hell do I do with kohlrabi?" was in part his inspiration for the book's recipes.  It led him to explore the 50 fruits and vegetables he has represented and give in-depth ideas of how to transform the ingredients into something not only delicious but creative.

I too had no idea what to do with kohlrabi (or even what it was) but some of the ideas he has for more familiar produce like blackberries, apples, pecans, asparagus and beets are delightful departures from boring dishes or interesting and bold takes on our favorite seasonal fare.

I'm excited to try several of the book's recipes and will be able to put our humble vegetable garden and blackberries from this summer to good use in dishes such as the Southern ratatouille and blackberry cobbler with drop biscuit topping.  Pictured below are a few of the gettings from our garden that will be made into something special with the help of this book.

Truly, this book is gorgeous and I can't heap enough praise upon photographer Rinne Allen.  Her photos are so lively that they would convince anyone of the food's quality and make them wish they could dive into these plates for a bite.  Chef Acheson must be very grateful to work with such a talented artist.

Thank you to the kind folks at Blogging for Books and Crown Publishing for providing me with this review copy.  I look forward to making many happy dishes from the 200 recipes in it, through your generosity.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George: Rave!

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Occasionally we are very lucky to find ourselves lost in a book.  We open the pages and are completely transported.  Reading The Little Paris Bookshop was one of those sweet and rare occasions for me.

From the map that begins the journey to the emergency literary pharmacy that graces the last pages, author Nina George has crafted a magical, thoughtful and heartbreaking gem of a novel which is destined to be at the top of many a reader's list of favorite books.  It's already at the top of mine.

Throughout its pages this book takes on many faces.  It masquerades as a diary, a moody love song, a travelogue, an impressionist painting and a love letter to the tango and to the delights of the whispers of the sea, buttery croissants and sweet summer wine.

We meet Jean Perdu - the literary apothecary who diagnoses the ailments of the broken hearted, the lovesick and the overstressed insomniacs of Paris with book suggestions or refused sales of symptom inappropriate reading material at his floating bookshop.  He embarks on a journey of self discovery where the books he so easily presents as remedies to others become his lifeboat as he searches for the self he abandoned 21 years before.   Jean's gradual self awareness informs our own and by the book's end I would venture any reader would have discovered something of value in his travels for the themselves.

The cast of characters are easy to root for.  You wish the best for this ragtag bunch even when they are busy lying to themselves and each other about where they are headed and why.  I was left with the hope I would chance upon even the characters with the smallest roles again - they seemed so real that I wouldn't be surprised to stumble across Kofi or Max's tango partner if I ever went on a European excursion.

Best of all there is an infectious literary language in this book.  There were phrases so lovely and words so imaginative and graceful that I read them aloud several times in the hopes they would live in my mouth.  Ms. George is an extraordinarily gifted writer and I give much credit to Simon Pate, the translator of this English edition as well.  The book is poetry.


I feel this is a book for anyone with a passion for language, beautiful stories and a chunk of time - you won't want to put it down.  Also, be forewarned, this book will make you want to read everything.  You'll regret there aren't enough hours in the day to experience all the wonderful books our hero suggests even if you don't suffer from the maladies they're prescribed for.

A most sincere and heartfelt thanks is owed to the kind folks at Blogging for Books for providing me this copy in exchange for a review.  I adored this book and I'm grateful for the chance to fall in love with it.  Thank you.

If you'd like a recommendation from the book apothecary or you'd like to dive in and sample the first chapter of this fantastic novel visit Read It Forward here!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Your Buts Are Showing

Social media can be a very depressing place.  It seems each time I open Facebook I see people engaging in behavior that is unbecoming at best and often downright hurtful and mean.  Scattered amongst the cats doing hilarious things, the images of celebrities in beautiful clothes, puppies, ads for things I can't afford and cute babies are some thinly veiled displays of anger, hatred and bitterness.  It pains me that I have come to expect them.

I understand the desire to express a personal opinion on hot button topics and the need to have your voice validated by that little blue "thumbs up" symbol.  It is important to be liked.  I feel the pressure of that desire as keenly as anyone.  It's difficult to be as witty, cool, and awesome as our peers and it is easy to get carried away.  That's where the buts start to creep in.

You know the buts I'm talking about.

I read at least ten posts a day that start with a but on display.

Here's a few examples...

"People are free to think whatever they want BUT...."

"This doesn't effect me in any way BUT..."

"I know many of my friends won't appreciate this BUT..."

"I'm not a racist BUT..."

"I don't hate gay people and I think everyone should be treated equal BUT..."

"I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings BUT..."

"Women are just as important as men BUT..."

"I'm not saying I'm better than you BUT..."

"It's sad that people died BUT..."

"I'm not telling you how to raise your child BUT..."

"I'm not saying all fat people are lazy BUT..."

My Facebook news feed has become but ugly.  When those buts find their way in they are all too often followed by a remark that negates the statement that precedes it.  I spend a good chunk of my day feeling depressed and angry that there are people out there who will display their buts proudly and carelessly.   It is getting the best of me.

I like playing devil's advocate.  I enjoy a good debate and I respect that people hold opinions that differ from my own.  I recognize that my beliefs may be crazy to others.  The only person who knows what's in my heart and mind is me.  I can try my best to explain myself.  I can also try not to put my own but on the line by keeping my thoughts and opinions away from the public.  The fights and name calling are tiresome, and my passion and energy is better spent elsewhere.  There are no buts about it.

I'm going to be positive.  I'm going to be happy.  I'm going to be thankful that I have a family and friends who are diverse and opinionated.  To do that, I think it is time for me to step away.  I don't feel the need to witness the buts on display.

I will miss the photos of your children and your pets, and I hope you keep me in the loop when something lovely happens to you.  I might (read: probably will) miss your birthday because I have a hard time keeping track of the date as it is and often can't figure out if it is Tuesday or Thursday.  I wish you all much love, much joy and much less drama.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Book of Joan by Melissa Rivers: Review

I was pleasantly surprised at The Book of Joan by Melissa Rivers.  It was a truly funny memoir of Melissa's life with her mother, comedian Joan Rivers.  Although I had seen many episodes of Fashion Police with both ladies, and had also seen Joan perform as a guest on talk shows and television programs throughout my life, I never had really thought of them beyond the footlights.  I loved Joan's  brash, frank, self deprecating humor and the fact that she poked just as much fun at herself as she did at others, but was happy to get a glimpse of her beyond the show business persona.  This book is a portrait of her as a mother, a grandmother and a wife as much as it is a tribute to her groundbreaking career in comedy.  It is also a lovely remembrance after her unexpected death last year.

Melissa Rivers is quick witted and charming in her delivery of anecdotes about her mom.  I enjoyed the fast pace of the book - each chapter delving into her mother's off camera antics and glimpses into her world as a hard working, mom who equally valued her family and her career.

Joan's career relied on her unapologetic nature and this book makes no apologies either.  The author doesn't always flatter her mother but there is never any doubt that she holds her in high esteem and loves her despite her flaws.  I found the many photos, handwritten notes from her mother, report cards and reminisces incredibly heartfelt and touching.  More than anything this book has convinced me to search out footage from the many stand up routines and appearances that are available online to see what a dynamo Joan Rivers was when she appeared on stage.

 I'm glad to have the chance to review this book and have my interest in Ms. River's comedy renewed as well as the chance to appreciate what a fine comic voice and storyteller her daughter is.  Thank you to the kind folks at Blogging For Books for providing me with this copy for review.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Since I've Been Gone

Writing a little something on my blog everyday occasionally felt like therapy, but more often than not felt stressful and trying.  The effort to be interesting and entertaining was fun when I had things to write about and share, but there were times when what I wanted to talk about was at odds with what I felt comfortable putting in front of an audience, even if they were comprised of folks who barely knew me out in cyber land.  

Things happened that didn't feel so good.  I went to a really negative place and decided that nothing I had to say was worth the effort to write it down.  I visit that place a lot.  I've grown to recognize it and have built the bitter walls up pretty high so I can hide behind them.  It isn't a happy place to live and I tend to get lost in it at times.  

It's like walking with a rock in your shoe.  You either stop everything, take off the shoe and shake it out or you bitch about how much it's bothering you as you deal with it.  Eventually you're so used to the annoyance you either decide you deserve it since you're too lazy or too incapable of dealing with it or you just stop walking so it doesn't annoy you anymore, but you also aren't going anywhere.  I wasn't going anywhere.  Honestly I think that I spend much of my time bitching about that rock still, but I'm moving so that's something.  Maybe the rock is smaller.  Perhaps I've worn it down or it worked its way out and I'm just so used to complaining I whine as a comfort.  

This is me stopping and shaking out the shoe. 

You'll be hearing more from me.  I'll be around.  Hopefully in motion, and not hiding.

If you see me sitting by the side of the road and I'm not headed anywhere or I'm staring at an upside down shoe while hopping barefoot, you might want to holler some encouragement.  Friends are things I need more of.  Walking alone sucks.

Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang: Book Review

      Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection  by Jia Jiang was a complete surprise.  I was amazed at how much this book resonated with me.  It was an emotional journey that dealt with author's desire to beat the feeling of rejection he was facing and turn it into a motivational inspiration. He had a simple idea: 100 days of rejection "therapy" wherin he would blog and vlog his experiences of learning to cope with rejection  in the hope that others could learn not to take it so personally.  He started with outlandish requests - like asking strangers to give him $100, and gradually came to the realization that many people said "no" but also asked "why?"  Hidden in his idea was a tremendous opportunity for growth in his communication skills and in understanding the business world in terms of how to make his inquiries in a way that opened the door to understanding the power of rejection and how to make it a more positive learning experience.  It teaches any reader rejection doesn't equal failure. Too often we equate the two, and Jiang shows us the lines between "no" and "yes" are not always black and white.

      I was quickly pulled into Jiang's story, and could completely relate to the feeling of defeat he had when his idea for a startup was denied financing.  I suffered with him when it seemed like his dreams were being met with closed doors and abrupt denials.  A funny thing happened when he set out on his journey to blog his experiences of rejection in the business world at - the ideas he thought would be outright "no" answers all became possible, thanks to his early positive experience in asking a Krispy Kreme employee who loved her job for something he felt would guarantee a rejection.  The viral "Olympic donut" experience turned me as a reader (and as a viewer on YouTube on the FearBuster blog channel) on to the amazing possiabilities of asking the right questions.

Watch as Jia Jiang gets his first warm acceptance to a crazy question...

I wish I had read Rejection Proof at an earlier point in my life.  If it had been available to me as a graduating senior when I had so many choices ahead of me and I didn't quite know where to begin, I think I would've gotten an even greater use out of its message and fearless response to coping with the difficulty of being rejected.  I think it would make an amazing gift to a recent graduate or anyone looking to improve their outlook and their communication skills.  It teaches us valuable lessons on how to ask questions, how to see the opportunities to learn from a rejection experience and how having as much knowledge about yourself and the person whose approval you seek can make all the difference in the outcome.

Thank you to Blogging for Books for the chance to read this fascinating story.  It arrived at just the right time and helped me to ask the right questions in a situation I really needed a boost of confidence in.  I'm thankful for the insight this book gave me, and I hope that you will watch Jiang's Ted talk about his journey and read this wonderful little book.